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“Japanese revisionism, the WWII invasion of China, propaganda, historical memory, biological warfare, victims and wounds,” is the terse but appropriately to-the-point synopsis offered by James T. Hong and Yin-Ju Chen for their brilliant new essay-documentary. With a pithy punch and intellectual cunning, LESSONS cuts through the contested and explosive history of Japanese atrocities in China (and the complicity of the United States) and offers a fascinating—and provocative—analysis of how history is written and how “truth” is located. Although still denied by some, the world has acknowledged that in 1938, Japanese soldiers killed an estimated 300,000 Chinese citizens in the “Rape of Nanjing.” What is less known and admitted is Japan’s widespread use of biological weapons and human experimentation in China during the same time period. Much of the historical record of these live vivisections, “frostbite experimentations” and plague infections was suppressed or destroyed after WWII. With a trove of archival materials, film clips and interviews, Hong and Chen methodically build an argument and collect evidence to demonstrate Japanese culpability and expose how a disputed history has been written and revised. Their far-ranging historical analysis encompasses the 1964 and 2008 Olympics, the war in Iraq, and a Chinese village, where survivors of a Japanese attack, now in their eighties, all possess the same horrifying affliction: rotting legs. In a history so contested, what cannot be disputed, they argue, are the living human remains.
It has been more than 57 years since the end of WWII. While the world has learned about the horrors of the Nazi war crimes and Germany has formally apologized and compensated victims of its atrocities, the Japanese government continues its whitewashing of history and denial of brutalities committed by the Japanese military in China and other Asian countries.